We often perceive empathy as a mainstream virtue in our society. Most corporations, schools, and political institutions are the first to broach the topic of paying it forward, aiding those that have been disenfranchised by intractable challenges. Although tumultuous, the time we’re living in is one protracted watershed moment for humanity – just check America’s recent past. This is why listening to someone justify the slaying of the “contemptuous” homeless population struck a piercing pang in my gut.
On one windy, March afternoon in our nation’s capital, I bore witness to someone mercilessly battering an essential component of humanity that is compassion.
‘We should kill them.’
“That’s reprehensible.” I retorted.
Here, in the mecca of revolution, intellectualism, and advocacy sat a young person peddling the draconian case for mass genocide against America’s homelessness population. Instead of resolving, or at the very least, assuaging an issue that has become one and the same with a medley of neighborhoods in L.A., the answer was to invite the firing squad and let them go to town.
As a political-science student, I was utterly unimpressed by the primitive chain of logic. As a journalist, I contemplated moderating the conversation using facts, cogent logic, and calmness. As a human being, I was horrified, yet assured by my internal voice this perspective was one baking on the fringe.
The infectious strain of society I’ve dubbed “the Fringe” live among us. The winds of change have not made a dent on their cognition, yet the seeds of ignorance have been sown deep in their outlook on life. By declaring them worthless, the fringe glazes over the contextual, salient details constituting homelessness, fueling what could be an ineradicable echo chamber on the issue.
For starters, it’s critical to be abreast of the fact that there are over 50,000 homeless persons living in L.A., according to a 2018 count conducted by the Los Angeles Homelessness Authority. Of those, upwards of 11,000 suffer from a “serious mental illness” and north of 7,000 abuse addictive substances. For some, diluting one’s senses by ingesting drugs and alcohol is a quick fix for a long-term battle – and for those incessantly worried about their safety as they lie down to sleep, it’s worth it.
Of the 70 percent that are unsheltered, their harsh reality is constituted of seeking refuge in freeway underpasses and assembling tents to sleep on surface streets, where illness festers due to rodents and other agents incompatible with appropriate human habitation.
Skid row, an infamous cross-section of the city densely lined with homeless encampments, was as recently as 2018 billed as a “Typhus Zone” by the city of Los Angeles, for example.
If you’re rattling off reasons why the homeless should shore themselves up, pay close attention to the context in which they live.
They cannot present a permanent physical address, which generally means they have no meaningful chances of landing a job, even at a supermarket. A majority have no support system, no connections to family or former friends, isolated from the auspices of social living. As an outcome of their dire circumstance, many contract ailments through the nomadic lifestyle they are often forced to resort to for longevity. The equilibrium of healthy living is tilted on its head.
To the Fringe that would like to “wipe” them off the planet like Adolf Hitler wanted to cleanse his Third Reich of the ‘Jewish problem’: comprehend the reality that the destinies of human beings are not completely in one’s control. Understanding and tangible support are what they require, not death, disdain, or contempt.
In fact, imagine yourself with a fraction of the discomforts I enumerated above. Would you be able to sustain an adequate livelihood, or one even remotely near it?
If you find yourself staring at a tent with indignation and wondering why one cannot pick him or herself up by the bootstraps, recognize it’s not always a unilateral decision. Such a resolution would take an array of multifaceted support systems to salvo; obviously, there are a dearth of such resources, disabling our communities to offset the proliferating problem.
One domain of these scarcities is housing.
Folks often forget that homelessness exists on a continuum, where one extreme could entail living out of a car and the other out of an alcove in an alley. The pole that’s least likely to be noticed – and therefore ostracized – is the former. Families, who’ve been shoved out of their homes by rising apartment costs and stagnated incomes, are typically the ones to bear the brunt of this hidden phenomena.
In February CBS News rode along with a handful of families enduring this painful truth of ‘car surfing.’ Ana Estrada, a single mother of a 15-year-old girl, was among the people whose lives were documented. After termination from her career as a social services case worker in L.A. County due to an illness impairing her performance, Ana was no longer able to foot the rent for an apartment that, in a 10-year period, tripled in price. A $900-dollar social security check and the money she earns from delivering groceries is no match for the hiked-up cost.
“I feel there’s still more to me when I was helping my families. I felt so rewarded…” she reminisces.
Every penny is now a conundrum. Pit-stops at 7-Eleven have suddenly become mandatory for dinner.
The horrid condition is growing at an ominous rate. According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a staggering 7,876 people are constituents of what has become known as ‘family homelessness.’
Akin to those putting up tents, these mothers, fathers, and children need compassion, sympathy, and for you to vouch for them in any fashion. Descending into vilification and objectification cannot allay these families suffering; contrary to it, such an approach flattens individuals into the natural landscape, where human beings fade into the background, unseen and ignored.
Additionally, and perhaps in concert with the fiscal crisis, a myriad of heart-wrenching factors similarly fuel this phenomenon. In a 2005 survey of U.S. cities, 50 percent reported domestic violence as a “primary cause” of their homelessness population, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. What’s more, with the growing number of children and teens who openly identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, new findings have surfaced elucidating the relationship between a family’s rejection of their child’s identity and homelessness. 46 percent of respondents cited their family’s disapproval as the basis for their unimaginable circumstance, according to a study cited by DoSomething.org.
The bottom line here is quite simple. If you’re taking a stroll in your neighborhood and you happen to make eye contact with someone experiencing homelessness don’t construct a false narrative for them. Behind every person is a complex story intertwined with seemingly unfathomable adversity. Before rushing to judgement ensure that thoughtfulness is coursing through your veins – you’ll be better for it.